Penn State basketball: 3 players primed to level up in conference play

As conference play picks back up for Mike Rhoades' Nittany Lions he'll be leaning heavily on these three players who are about to step into expanded roles in 2024.
 Penn State Nittany Lions guard D'Marco Dunn (2)
Penn State Nittany Lions guard D'Marco Dunn (2) / Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports
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After the holiday break, Penn State will resume Big Ten conference play on Thursday night against Michigan State in East Lansing. The Nittany Lions are 7-6 in Mike Rhoades’ first season and are ninth in the Big Ten with a 1-1 conference record. 

Even in their losses, the Nittany Lions have played a lot of teams close, including Maryland and Georgia Tech, but an 83-80 last-second win over Ohio State on December 9, might be the only thing stopping fans from characterizing the start of the Rhoades era as a disaster. 

After Jalen Pickett and the rest of Micah Shrewsberry’s top contributors left Happy Valley this offseason along with the head coach, Rhoades came in and built through the transfer portal, including bringing his point guard Ace Baldwin Jr. with him from VCU. 

So far, Baldwin and sophomore Kanye Clary, who stayed at Penn State, have become a fairly dynamic backcourt duo. Clary is leading the team averaging 18.2 points per game and Baldwin, the former A10 Defensive Player of the Year, is averaging 13.2 points, 4.5 assists, and 2.7 steals. 

Still, this team needs to improve to compete with the top teams in the Big Ten and at least get back into the conversation for an NCAA Tournament bid after last season’s breakthrough. 

The Nittany Lions rank 127th in the country averaging 77.5 points per game and 162nd allowing 70.3 points a game. They are ranked 108th in KenPom. The help this team needs will have to be internal improvements and these three players appear to be positioned to play much better the rest of the season.